ANU death threats: ABC's groupthink on climate

FOI request

The Australian publishes no less than four separate articles dealing, either directly or tangentially, with the ANU death threat story, and focussing in particular on the ABC’s response to the release of the emails.

Interestingly, the ABC’s response to the release of the emails has become more the focus of these reports, since it exposes the blinkered mentality on climate change which afflicts our national (taxpayer-funded) broadcaster.

On page 5, Chris Merritt writes an article entitled “ABC issues correction on ANU scientists email threats claim” quoting ACM’s editor:

THE ABC has issued a correction acknowledging that 11 emails sent to climate scientists at the Australian National University contained abuse, but no death threats.

The correction, posted on the ABC’s website late on Thursday, follows criticism from The Australian and ABC TV’s Media Watch.

It comes three weeks after The Australian reported that Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim had examined the emails and found no death threats, while adjudicating on an attempt to obtain their release from the ANU under the Freedom of Information Act.

That FOI request had been submitted by lawyer and blogger Simon Turnill, who was seeking to check the veracity of the ABC’s report of June 4 last year that in the previous six months “several of Australia’s top climate change scientists at the Australian National University have been subjected to a campaign of death threats, forcing the university to tighten security”.

The correction indicates that the ABC now accepts its report about Mr Pilgrim’s decision on May 11 should have said the emails contained no death threats, rather than just saying they contained abuse.

But the ABC has not disavowed last year’s reports about death threats. It says the ANU believes its staff did receive death threats, but they did not come to light in the FOI exercise.

In response, Mr Turnill wrote to ANU asking it to make public whatever evidence it has about death threats.

He drew its attention to the ABC’s statement in the correction that “the ANU maintains that staff have received death threats in other communications not released under the FOI action”.

He asked the university when such death threats were received, who received them, what form they took, whether the university referred them to police and what evidence it held about the existence of death threats. He wrote this information was covered by the terms of a second FOI request he served on the university.

“However, I would respectfully suggest that given the significant media interest in this story the university consider releasing the evidence of those death threats which it holds without the need for another protracted FOI procedure,” Mr Turnill wrote. (source)

In case you wondered, the ANU haven’t yet responded to the email I sent yesterday, and I fully expect them to refuse to release the documents. One must ask why they are so reluctant to put an end to the speculation, that some particularly cynical readers may be engaging in, that maybe there aren’t any death threats at all, or for some strange reason the ANU spectacularly failed to keep proper records of something as serious as a death threat? As our American cousins would say, just release the documents already!

The lead story on Inquirer is entitled “Groupthink takes over at national broadcaster

NOW and then, if you watch and listen long enough, you can be encouraged by journalists ignoring what many would argue is the groupthink of the ABC. But the reaction from within can be discouraging.

This month the 7.30 program aired a strong story in which whistleblowers revealed how some asylum-seekers were committing identity fraud to win humanitarian visas. Through government action and individual cases in the past, we know this is a real issue but not one the ABC normally likes to ventilate. The reward 7.30 and its journalists received for this attempt to report reality was to be attacked by the ABC’s Media Watch program. The spat continues.

Likewise, this newspaper has been engaged in a debate with Media Watch. This time the program has been defending the ABC’s alarmist reporting of claims that climate scientists had received death threats. Outsiders sometimes wonder what is more important at the national broadcaster: the facts or their impact on a political agenda. (source)

Chris Merritt also writes on the front page of the Inquirer, in a piece entitled “The world according to ABC has its own climate“, about the experiences of Marc Hendrickx, of the ABC News Watch blog, when attempting to obtaining corrections and clarifications from the ABC:

Alan Sunderland, head of policy at ABC news, gives every indication of being a reasonable man. But so does Marc Hendrickx, who runs the blog ABC News Watch. He has been left dumbfounded at what he sees as the national broadcaster’s inability to accept that when it comes to climate change, the organisation is riddled with groupthink that diminishes its journalism on this subject.

Even when the ABC qualifies earlier reports on climate change – as it did this week – it does so in a way that Hendrickx believes is grudging and inadequate.

“Getting the ABC to make corrections over factual mistakes is like pulling a camel through a needle,” he says. “They can’t even get the correction right.”

Throughout the past few weeks, Sunderland has been the man in the hot seat – responding to requests for explanations about the way the ABC has conducted itself during the unfolding debate about two associated issues:

Were there ever any real death threats made against climate change scientists at the Australian National University in the six months to June 4 last year, as reported by the ABC at the time?

Did the ABC succumb to groupthink on climate change by giving little weight – and no coverage until this week – to the fact Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim had reached a conclusion that at the very least undermined, if not demolished, the ABC’s June 4 report? (source)

And the lead editorial is entitled “Media Watch keeps an eye out for ABC heretics”, which refers to the FoI story:

The latest example has been its dissembling defence of The Canberra Times and the ABC over erroneous reports that climate scientists at the Australian National University had received emailed death threats. The original newspaper report, in June last year, was taken up with such gusto by the ABC that it was followed internationally. The revelation of death threats against scientists played conveniently into a narrative that portrays climate sceptics as irrational fringe-dwellers ranting at the reason of science. But a crucial element in the story was wrong.

A Freedom of Information application unearthed the crucial emails, which contained abuse, but not death threats. We revealed this, and the ABC failed to fully report it. So, strangely, Media Watch decided to shoot the messenger. We are pleased to report that the ABC, belatedly yesterday, corrected its reporting – although you had to dig deep into its website to find it. This, in itself, is unsettling because rather than resist stubbornly for three weeks, media organisations should be eager to correct mistakes, in order to keep faith with consumers. (source)

None of this should surprise anyone who has read this blog for any length of time. Is the ABC subject to groupthink on climate? Do bears defecate in the woods? Is the Pope catholic? Is the Climate Commission a paid mouthpiece for government climate propaganda? Is the IPCC a corrupt political organisation founded solely to find evidence of a conclusion already reached? I could go on…
The Australian also prints Christopher Booker’s damning critique of the BBC’s bias on climate change – of which the ABC is a clone.
Note: some of these links are paywalled. I will try to put up scans in due course.


  1. Peter C says:

    It’s a broadside by the Australian, bringing in Booker to slate the BBC:

    [REPLY – Thanks for the link – will add it to the main post]

  2. Sean McHugh says:


    Outsiders sometimes wonder what is more important at the national broadcaster: the facts or their impact on a political agenda.

    Surely only outsiders who are new or terribly slow.

    Very impressive work, Simon. By now the ABC would be hating you. You do realise that they wouldn’t be seeing themselves as doing anything wrong? Theirs is a different morality, one where political correctness trumps the truth. Their paradigm actually renders the ABC as particularly noble and responsible. It’s what makes them so arrogant.

    • Garry Nosworthy says:

      The fact that the ANU & the ABC no doubt hate Simon, surely would be worn by him like a badge of honour.

  3. Sean McHugh says:
  4. Simon Colwell says:

    These basket weavers are not worth 8c a day…

%d bloggers like this: